The Joshua Jackson-Starring 'Fatal Attraction' Remake Turns the 80s Erotic Thriller Into a Murder-Mystery
Joshua Jackson and Lizzy Caplan take over from Michael Douglas and Glenn Close in the latest movie classic to get turned into a TV series.
April 28, 2023
Among the many gifts that 80s cinema gave the world, Glenn Close's (Tehran) turn as a bunny-boiling jilted lover in Fatal Attraction is one of them. There's committed performances and then there's her Oscar-nominated effort as Alex Forrest, the book editor who embarks upon an affair with Michael Douglas' (Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania) married Manhattan lawyer Dan Gallagher, then doesn't appreciate being seen as a mere fling. How does another version of Fatal Attraction follow that up? Why would one bother? How can the film's erotic-thriller storyline leap to TV, find a way forward decades beyond the genre's heyday, and update its plot and long-outdated sexual politics to today? Streaming from Monday, May 1, Paramount+'s eight-part series endeavours to answer those questions — engagingly and intriguingly, and with an excellent cast.
There's an air of inevitability to the new Fatal Attraction before its first episode even begins; in this peak time for turning movie classics into television shows, of course the rabbit-stewing hit is getting that treatment. From A League of Their Own and Interview with the Vampire to Dead Ringers and American Gigolo, streaming platforms can't stop remaking the past, a trend that also sees a Cruel Intentions show in the works, plus Harry Potter and Twilight series. Fatal Attraction circa 2023 doesn't just jump on that bandwagon. In finding a way to flesh out the OG film's 119-minute narrative to almost eight hours and give itself a point of difference, it's also a murder-mystery. That's a calculating but involving move, steeping the show in another current favourite approach — see: fellow recent whodunnits Poker Face, Bad Sisters, The Afterparty, The Undoing and The Flight Attendant — and putting far more than a scorned woman in focus.
Brought to the small screen by Alexandra Cunningham (Physical) and Kevin J Hynes (The Offer), with the feature's screenwriter James Dearden (Christmas Survival) co-penning several episodes — the 1987 script adapted his own 1979 short Diversion, too — the latest Fatal Attraction starts with its adulterous lawyer in prison. Formerly an assistant Los Angeles district attorney and head of major crimes on the way to a judgeship, this Dan (Joshua Jackson, Dr Death) has spent 15 years in incarceration. Petitioning for his freedom, he tells the parole board that he's thought about Alex Forrest's (Lizzy Caplan, Fleishman Is in Trouble) death every day across that decade and a half. But there's another side to his words — because, once out, he's back to protesting his innocence. More than that, he's determined to track down the killer, with help from his ex-colleague and ex-detective Mike Gerard (Toby Huss, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story).
Listening in on that hearing is college student Ellen (Alyssa Jirrels, Saved by the Bell), Dan's now-grown daughter, who hasn't had any contact with her father at his request during his time inside. In Fatal Attraction's present-day thread, she's handily a psychology student specialising in Carl Jung and his collaborator Toni Wolff, and calls her mother Beth's (Amanda Peet, Brockmire) second husband Arthur (Brian Goodman, I Know This Much Is True) dad. Dan wants to reconnect, a quest that unfurls in parallel to his search for the truth, as well as the show's flashbacks to the late 00s. In the latter, he's reaching 40 and flying high until his move behind the bench doesn't pan out, which coincides with new LA arrival Alex crossing his professional path as a victim's advocate.
It's telling that Cunningham also has Dirty John on her resume, while Hynes has the new TV version of Perry Mason; combine the first's romance-gone-murderous stories with the second's legal dramas and that's where their spin on Fatal Attraction largely lands. In the process, there's noticeably little eroticism beyond a tumble or two in Alex's window-filled loft, but there is a vital look at the narrative from more than just Dan's viewpoint. His privilege is called out — he's the son of a judge, even making him a nepo baby — as the show also steps through his liaison with Alex from her perspective, and then from Beth's. There's no doubting that revisiting the same events through multiple characters' eyes helps fill the series' running time; however, it also helps reinforce that all tales are shaped by whoever is telling them.
Indeed, when Fatal Attraction dives into Alex's history, including the lifetime of terrible treatment from her always-philandering dad and lack of affection from her mum, it puts her mental health in the spotlight, plus her thoughts, feelings and motivations. This iteration is never just about a man who strays from his nuptials and ends up with unwanted attention, prison time and his life upended, but equally about how Alex's time with Dan appears to her, and why. Playing out across both of the series' periods, Fatal Attraction is similarly concerned with how the past forever shapes our futures, a notion it unpacks in layers. That said, it also throws in a ridiculous and questionable late development to underscore that line of thinking, which blatantly and needlessly tries to set up a second season.
When the show isn't making wild swerves and delivering cliffhanger twists, it benefits from having Caplan and Jackson at its centre. Sliding into Close and Douglas' shoes is no simple task, so neither attempts to imitate their predecessors, instead capitalising upon their own patent chemistry and respective strengths as performers. Caplan has always excelled at exuding intelligence and vulnerability in tandem — amid acerbic quips, it's what helped make her part in Party Down such a gem — and Jackson has been making charming but flawed his niche since Dawson's Creek, then Fringe, then The Affair. He can't sell being 55 in Fatal Attraction's later timeline, though, and visibly isn't treated well in the hair department.
The series' smart casting extends to perennial scene-stealer Huss, who could turn Mike into another show's slippery lead; the ever-reliable Peet, who is never asked to play Beth as just the betrayed spouse; and Jirrels, including while saddled with talking through much of Fatal Attraction's psychological musings. With perspective such a key part of this retelling, strong supporting performances couldn't be more essential. In fact, that too is a crucial reason that returning to this tale proves impossible to ignore, like Alex: it's still a portrait of obsession, but it spies more than just one type of fixation and one basis for it.
Check out the trailer for Fatal Attraction below:
Fatal Attraction streams via Paramount+ from Monday, May 1.
Images: Monty Brinton / Michael Moriati, Paramount+.
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